Tuesday 11 May 2010

Did Alliance have a good election?

The celebrations amongst Alliance party supporters last Friday must have been legendary – to have won a Westminster seat at all was nigh-on unthinkable, but to take the seat of the King of Unionism himself, Peter Robinson, made the victory all the more dramatic.

Overall Alliance won 6.3% of the vote – respectable, but not earth-shattering. And most of their votes were won in only a few constituencies: East Belfast alone accounted for over 30% of its total. Seven seats of the greater Belfast area – East and South Belfast, East and South Antrim, North Down, Lagan Valley and Strangford – accounted for almost 77% of the party’s vote – and were the only seats in which Alliance actually retained its deposit. In the seats in the west and south of Northern Ireland – Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Foyle, Mid Ulster, Newry and Armagh, South Down and West Tyrone – Alliance won a total of 3,021 votes (7.1% of its total), and, of course, lost its deposit in each of these seats.

The election showed that Alliance is a sub-regional party. Where some parties limit themselves to the small pond of Northern Ireland (the DUP and the SDLP), and others are by historical fact wider in scope (Sinn Féin), or try to be (the UUP), all of these four are, at least, represented in all corners of Northern Ireland. The Alliance Party, though, is a party of only a part of Northern Ireland – a region within a region. Its existence outside Greater Belfast is paltry, and even its candidates in some ‘southern and western’ constituencies were blow-ins from Alliance’s East Ulster heartland.

Alliance is a party of a particular group – middle-class and suburban, both Protestant and Catholic, in the Greater Belfast area. Its failure to appeal either to working class people in Belfast or elsewhere, or to rural and small-town people, is an indication of its own limitations. As a party of the Belfast middle-class – probably primarily those employed in the public sector – it cannot truly understand the needs or wants of those who are not well-employed, pensionable, educated and urbane. In a large country such a self-limiting party may carve out a niche, but in a small region like Northern Ireland – and restricted to an even smaller part of that region by its own lack of appeal – the party will have to struggle to remain relevant.

Euphoria over Naomi Long’s historic victory in East Belfast should not blind the Alliance Party to its extremely marginal existence. It is a single-city party, and such narrow political vehicles do not often last long. It lost its deposit in 11 of the 18 seats! A failure to build upon Long’s success – by geographical and political broadening – may consign Alliance to history’s dustbin just when its members think that they’re finally arrived.


Faha said...

I believe that the prospects of the Alliance Party are actually improving. They received 6.3% of the vote, which was 1% higher than they received in the 2007 Assembly election. Their Assembly vote is usually higher than their Westminster vote since some of their voters vote tactictally or stay home in Westminster elections. Their fate is somewhat entwined with that of the UCUNF. The UCUNF received 15% of the vote and recent elections show that 5% of that 15% prefer the Alliance Party of SDLP as their 2nd preference. If the the UCUNF merge with the DUP then some of these voters will switch to Alliance. Even if the UCUNF does not merge with the DUP, the continued affiliation with the Conservatives will likely result in some loss of voters to Alliance, especially if the David Cameron institutes draconian budget cuts in Northern Ireland.

Anonymous said...

Typically the Ark site talks up the Alliance prospects. Seemingly they are in with a shout of a seat in East Derry. And North Belfast!!! I doubt that.
Leaving aside the very precise problem of East Belfast (but I do note a collapse of SDLP vote) there is always a difference in proportional representation.
There seems to have been a marked relunctance of nationalists in East Antrim, South Antrim, Strangford, North Antrim, Lagan Valley to go thru the motions of voting and as I comment in another thread it takes more thanone election cycle for nationalist voters to realise that theres a quota.
Looking at the Alliance heartlands.
It seems that in North Down and South Belfast there was tactical voting and 6% and 7% in line with my own predictions are no real cause for AP concern.
The position in Strangford is that they got 9% of the vote against 11% for SDLP and SF combined. With SDLP a few points ahead of SF, this indicates a AP seat under pressure.
South Antrim the vote was just 8% but Ford on the ticket should save them. The SDLP seat is vulnerable.
East Antrim. Gerry Lynch is no Neeson and the likelihood of a nationalist quota (14% evenly split between SDLP and SF) should see the AP seat (11%) vulnerable.
While nationalists (9%)losing out in Lagan Valley could save the AP seat.
In other words any potential second seat in East Belfast is the only likely gain next year. And conceivably they have the chance of a second in North Down.
But East Antrim and Strangford are not safe.
So the most likely outcome is between 6 and 9 seats ..offset by Deeny not standing in West Tyrone.
In other words.....no real change.

Sammy Morse said...

Actually we saved our deposit in East Derry and came within 41 votes of doing so in North Belfast, and would have done so had Martin McAuley not stood; we're a way off seats in either constituency but neither is a fanciful target.

The boundary changes were always going to produce nationalist Assembly seats in East Antrim and Strangford, but I don't think ours are the vulnerable seats in either case. The DUP will simply not be able to hold on to 4 seats in Strangford without Iris Robinson - they only saw the SDLP off by 30-odd votes the last time; the second UUP seat in East Antrim is not exactly safe (and again, the SDLP weren't far off taking it the last time and of course won a seat on less favourable boundaries in 1998).

Astonishingly, the combined centre vote was slightly ahead of the combined nationalist vote in Strangford, something I did not think feasible given boundary changes that were unfavourable to Alliance and favourable to the SDLP. I really didn't expect that, although I think Alliance and both nationalist parties were squeezed by the ultimately derailed Nesbitt bandwagon. The UUP or UCUNF or whatever they fight the election as won't be that close to 2 quotas in the Assembly election.